Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan. (Photos/CFP)
Less than a week after Communist Party chief Xi Jinping ascended to the Chinese presidency, local media are already busy comparing the country's newest first lady, Peng Liyuan, with her American counterpart, Michelle Obama.
Comparing the first ladies of the two most powerful countries in the world is only natural, according to Chinese web portal Sohu, especially when both are as brilliant as Peng and Obama. While Peng may be regarded as "plainer" than the stylish Obama, she is every bit as impressive as her counterpart in terms of class, Sohu said.
Born in 1964 to a grassroots African-American family, Michelle Obama is seen as a hardworking mother and talented public speaker who played a key role in both of her husband's elections victories.
A graduate of Princeton and Harvard, she met her husband while the two were colleagues at a Chicago law firm in the late 80s. They married in 1992 and have two daughters — Malia Ann, born 1998, and Sasha, born 2001.
After leaving the law practice in 1991, she held public sector positions with the Chicago city government and worked for a non-profit organization assisting young people on social issues. She later served as the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago before joining the University of Chicago Hospitals in 2002, holding various key positions until taking leave to assist on her husband's first presidential campaign.
Stylish but not extravagant, strong but feminine and elegant, Obama has become an international style icon and female role model. She was named by Vanity Fair as one of the world's 10 best dressed people in 2007 and ranked seventh in Forbes' most powerful women list last year.
Peng Liyuan, on the other hand, is one of China's most revered folk singers, a passionate patriot who outshone her politician husband for the greater part of their 25-year marriage. The couple met through friends in the late 1980s and have a teenage daughter, Xi Mingze.
Born in 1962, Peng comes from Yuncheng county in Shandong province in eastern China. Influenced by her theater performer mother, Peng began performing from a young age and joined a performance academy specializing in folk music at the age of 14. She joined the People's Liberation Army as an ordinary soldier when she 18, but her vocal talents soon catapulted her to stardom and before long she was performing at PLA events to boost troop morale.
Peng became popular across the country from her regular appearances on the annual New Year's Gala on national broadcaster CCTV. She has also won many singing awards nationwide and is regarded as an important contributor to the country's folk music and military music culture.
Like Obama, Peng is actively involved in politics and has been a long-standing member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. She is also a civilian member of the PLA and holds the civilian rank comparable to major general. As is the case with Michelle Obama, Peng is well-known for her work with the underprivileged, especially with ethnic minorities and agricultural workers in China's impoverished regions.